Friday, February 22, 2013

Beets in February

A month or so ago, I did a germination test on some old beet seeds. I had about a 60% success rate and couldn't bear to throw away the resulting seedlings.  So I planted them in a seed tray and put them in a south window.

They do not get enough light, even a south window in Michigan in February is way too little sunshine.  They are very spindly.  Since beets grow from a taproot and don't take kindly to being transplanted, I doubt I will get much of a crop from the roots, but perhaps the leaves will be a nice addition to some salads.

As I look out over the back yard, I see today's accumulation of 1-2 inches of snow is blowing and drifting around.  I don't think I will be planting these beets outside anytime soon. At any rate, I know I can use that package of seeds!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Small is beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

"In 1923 (in the midst of a dire slump in the car industry) Sloan became president of GM. It was there that his reputation was made. He reorganised the company in a way that became the template for virtually every corporate entity for the rest of the century. He divided the company into separate autonomous divisions that were subject only to financial and policy controls from a small central staff.   This “federal decentralisation”, as he called it, is said to have taken only a month to set up, but its results were enduring and dramatic. Within six years the company had moved from being a laggard in the industry (way behind Ford with its famous Model T) to being the market leader with a turnover of $1.5 billion and a share price that had almost quintupled" - The Economist, Jan 30, 2009

"Henry Ford couldn't get off the farm and into the factory fast enough, but he provided the best of both worlds to rural Michiganians when he created his innovative Village Industries.  Village Industries were a series of small factories established mostly in the 1930's.  They employed local farmers to produce automobile parts while they maintained their farms. ... The more complex question is why Ford established these tiny businesses, some of which employed as few as a dozen or so people.  It seems a contradiction to Ford's construction of the then-largest auto assembly plant, the Rouge complex, which employed thousands to produce everything for the automobile. The Rouge was hailed as the world's industrial showcase of its day.   ...  Ford's 1939 pamphlet described work life at a Village Industries plant:  "He works in a small factory where noise and strain are reduced to the minimum.  He lives in an American village - or on a plot of land near the village... His family has the advantage of the clearer air, the more natural tempo of life, the rather higher level of neighborhood character... He is within an hour and a half of the big city.  He probably indulges in a propensity for gardens and chickens, which supply some of his needs and lighten the pull on his income.  His work is likely to be steadier. "... The results and achievements of Village Industries are mixed.  "Did they succeed? Yes and no," concluded Segal.  His research indicates Village Industries never made money.  "But, adminstratively, they were successful alternatives to large scale manufacturing and production - and were pleasant places to work."" - Michelle Krebs, June 1 2003, on milfordhistory.org

"Smith took on the massive GM bureaucracy with disastrous results. A sea change in how GM would market and build cars in the future, the 1984 reorganization was intended to streamline the process and create greater efficiencies; the reverse actually occurred. Combining the nameplate divisions, Fisher Body, and GM Assembly into two groups, C-P-C (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Canada) to build small cars and B-O-C (Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac) to build large cars, the effort was subsequently criticized for creating chaos within the company. Longstanding informal relationships that greased the wheels of GM were severed, seemingly overnight, leading to confusion and slipping new product programs. The reorganization virtually stopped GM in its tracks for 18 months, and never really worked as intended, with the CPC division building Cadillacs and BOC building Pontiacs. The reorganization added costs and created more layers of bureaucracy when the new groups added management, marketing and engineering staff, duplicating existing staff at both the corporate and division levels. Almost ten years elapsed before the 1984 reorganization was unwound and all car groups were combined into one division." - Wikipedia article on Roger Smith, GM's CEO in 1981.

"In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed [Earl] Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs.
For example, he abolished a program that paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. (See Henry Wallace's "Ever-Normal Granary".) This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm." - Wikipedia article on Earl Butz, retrieve 2-8-2013

"The farm-to-city migration has obviously produced advantages to the corporate economy.  The absent farmers have had to be replaced by machinery, petroleum, chemicals, credit, and other expensive goods and services from the agribusiness economy, which ought not to be confused with the economy of what used to be called farming.  But these short-term advantages all imply long-term disadvantages, to both country and city.  The departure of so many people has seriously weakened rural communities and economies all over the country. And that our land no longer has enough caretakers is implied by the fact that, as the farming people have departed from the land, the land itself has departed.  Our soil erosion rates are now higher than they were in the time of the Dust Bowl.  At the same time, the cities have had to receive a great influx of people unprepared for urban life and unable to cope with it....In a country that puts an absolute premium on labor-saving measures, short workdays, and retirement, why should there be any surprise at permanence of unemployment and welfare dependency?" - Wendell Berry, 1985 "What are People For?"

"Even as the little neighborhood schools shut their doors, the local livestock markets closed, one by one.  There was once a stockyard in Harpster.  Both it and the one in Upper Sandusky closed in my youth.  Now, with livestock to sell, I watched the stockyards at Carely, Arlington, Marion, and Kenton fade away.  Only Bucyrus remained close enough for practical hauling.  We were in the grasp of some awful, monolithic, monopolistc economic power that was relentlessly desroying local independence.  Local everything.  Where would it all end? ... .. "I was trying to hold down a factory job at the time and run the store too, and I wanted to get started in blacksmithing." he says.  "It got to be more than my wife and I could handle at the time.  But now we hope we've found a way to keep the store alive, too.  "I think what finally kills villages is a lack of love."  I was stunned by his remark.  I knew that's why farms died too." - Gene Logsdon,  Home Villages, in "You Can Go Home Again", 2002

"As the earth's population continues to concentrate in cities and resources become more scarce, the [Michigan State] university believes that the world will become increasingly dependent on urban farming to meet its food needs.
“By 2050, food production will need to double – using less water and energy than today," MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a release. "We see great opportunity to do good locally and connect globally.”
At press conference at Mayor Bing's office on Wednesday, Simon said that, by positioning itself as a leader in urban agriculture, Detroit would be able to take advantage of opportunities presented by the Farm Bill, which recently passed the U.S. Senate and is now in consideration in the House of Representatives."  - "Detroit Urban Farming Gets Boost From New Michigan State University Agricultural Innovation Initiative", 6-23-2012, Huffington Post Detroit, retrieved 2-8-2013


 
 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

factory farming

"And then when she thought of her husband, she was filled with a sudden rush of pity that he was so hard and narrow, that he knew and you understood so little of the rich ess of life, that he never saw the beauty that lay in the sheen of a mallard's wing, in the lettuce green of a cottonwood leaves in spring or the warmth that came of a calf's nose nuzzling your hand.  He had made all his land and the animals that lived upon it no more than a factory.".

- Louis Bromfield in "The Pond", The World We Live In, 1940

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Purpose of Life

I grew up in a place just a few miles north of the birthplace of Warren G. Harding, the US President.  The name of this place is Blooming Grove, Ohio.  It has ceased to be a community that has any statistics recorded about it in Wikipedia.  It is, however,  still a crossroads and a highway sign is there to mark the location.  A memorial plaque is placed at the Harding birthplace, which is outside of the "town" proper.  My father's farm was on a road that crossed "Crestline-BloomingGrove Road".

The town name is so poetic, I want to live there just to have my return address be "Bright Meadow" in "Blooming  Grove".  However, this is not to be, as far as I know there is no post office in Blooming Grove.

This place is also geographically located between the farms of Louis Bromfield in Perrysville and Gene Logsdon in Upper Sandusky.

I grew up on this farm in the 1960's.  I was born in 1956, four months after the death of Louis Bromfield.  But Gene Logdson is still alive!  I am currently reading his book "You Can Go Home Again".  He writes about his experience writing freelance articles for the Farm Journal. 

I read the Farm Journal every month while a teenager.  Specifically, I ignored the market reports but read all the articles about raising livestock, making things, the human interest stories, and especially "The Farmer's Wife" section.  I read the magazine and "Successful Farming" when they arrived in our mailbox, before my father got home from working at his factory job.\ The single channel we received on our black and white TV was not sufficient to keep me occupied, so I was a great reader.   Farming for my father was a way of life, but it was also an expensive hobby. In the magazines, I watched the transformation from "The Farmer's Wife" to "Farm Wife News" to spin off  to Rieman Publications and become  "Country Woman". I am guessing I read some of Gene Logsdon's writing when it was still "hot off the press."

I recently learned of the death of Patricia Leimbach, also an Ohio farm writer.  In addition to her three books, she wrote numerous articles for farm magazines and was known for her syndicated newspaper column "The Country Wife".  I am sure I read many of these articles as a teenager.

Even with all this\farm-related teenaged reading, I still left the farm to pursue a college degree and a professional, management career in manufacturing.  As far as I could see, there was no way to make any money on the farm.  Unless you wrote books and magazine articles about farming.

Now, an adult, and almost ready to retire, I'm also reading Wendell Berry and E.F. Schumaker's "A Guide for the Perplexed".   Also, seemingly unrelated, but actually related very closely, " Practical Advice for Lifetime Maintenance after Bariatric Surgery" by Pamela Harrelson. I find a common theme in all these books.

In contrast to recent events reported in the media,where many businesses were seen to be "too big to fail", I am more and more convince that our society has allowed our economic units to be "too big to succeed" 

"God did not design our bodies to have an "issue" with nutrition or exercise.  We used to burn off the calories by planting and harvesting our food! This problem is rooted in an industrialized society with cars, phones, desk jobs!  God knew that I had no patience and He understood how this came about.  I feel that many of us are victimized by our society, which contributes to a sedentary lifestyle.  We used to burn our calories by regular daily work before so many amenities were available."- Pamela Harrellson

"Another farmer in our neighborhood, Gottlief, had a philosophy on such matters that affected me greatly.  He lived to be well over a hundred years old, was in fact still clubbing groundhogs to death with his cane at age one hundred, as the local paper proudly reported.  He led an extremely simple life, and so, even from his little sixty-acre grain and livestock farm, he made enough money for his purposes.  A friend and I visited him when he was in his eighties or nineties to record some of his observations for posterity.  I asked him why he didn't go ahead and remodel his old farmhouse or at least bring water into the house since I knew he could well afford to.  "Oh, that would be too much trouble," he said, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand.  "I'll soon be dead anyway." But he kept on living contentedly for many more years, without indoor plumbing.  He'd watch the cars zoom by on the new highway and wonder aloud: "Where are all theose people trying to go, anyway?" -Gene Logsdon

" Moreover, in any given region, there is a limit beyond which a farm outgrows the attention, affection, and care of a single owner.  The size of the fields is also a matter of agricultural concern.  Fields can be too big to permit the effectiverotation of grazing, or to prevent erosion of land in cultivation.  In general, the steeper the ground, the smaller should be the fields" - Wendell Berry

"This means, among other things, that the land and its human communities are not being thought about in places of study and leadership, and this failure to think is causing damage.  But if one lives in a country place, and if one loves it, one must think about it." - Wendell Berry

"Human society is moving in the opposite direction, toward ever-increasing consolidation. That is supposed to be our glory, but I fear it is also our doom.  The cost of transporting all that food into dense clusters of human and animal populations, and transporting all that manure back out again, is unsustainable in the long run" - Gene Logsdon

"What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law. But in God's sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate, such as:
inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money;
excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God. In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts."
- Heidelberg Catechism

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